* Judges accused Mursi of violating their independence
* Brotherhood, opponents call for big protest on Tuesday
* Police, youths clash near Tahrir Square
* Highest judicial authority slams "unprecedented attack"
By Tom Perry
CAIRO, Nov 24 Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi
faced a rebellion from judges who accused him on Saturday of
expanding his powers at their expense, deepening a crisis that
has triggered violence in the street and exposed the country's
The Judges' Club, a body representing judges across Egypt,
called for a strike during a meeting interrupted with chants
demanding the "downfall of the regime" - the rallying cry in the
uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.
Mursi's political opponents and supporters, representing the
divide between newly empowered Islamists and their critics,
called for rival demonstrations on Tuesday over a decree that
has triggered concern in the West.
Issued late on Thursday, it marks an effort by Mursi to
consolidate his influence after he successfully sidelined
Mubarak-era generals in August. The decree defends from judicial
review decisions taken by Mursi until a new parliament is
elected in a vote expected early next year.
It also shields the Islamist-dominated assembly writing
Egypt's new constitution from a raft of legal challenges that
have threatened the body with dissolution, and offers the same
protection to the Islamist-controlled upper house of parliament.
Egypt's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial
Council, said the decree was an "unprecedented attack" on the
independence of the judiciary. The Judges' Club, meeting in
Cairo, called on Mursi to rescind it.
That demand was echoed by prominent opposition leader
Mohamed ElBaradei. "There is no room for dialogue when a
dictator imposes the most oppressive, abhorrent measures and
then says 'let us split the difference'," he said.
"I am waiting to see, I hope soon, a very strong statement
of condemnation by the U.S., by Europe and by everybody who
really cares about human dignity," he said in an interview with
Reuters and the Associated Press.
More than 300 people were injured on Friday as protests
against the decree turned violent. There were attacks on at
least three offices belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, the
movement that propelled Mursi to power.
Liberal, leftist and socialist parties called a big protest
for Tuesday to force Mursi to row back on a move they say has
exposed the autocratic impulses of a man once jailed by Mubarak.
In a sign of the polarisation in the country, the Muslim
Brotherhood called its own protests that day to support the
Mursi also assigned himself new authority to sack the
prosecutor general, who was appointed during the Mubarak era,
and appoint a new one. The dismissed prosecutor general, Abdel
Maguid Mahmoud, was given a hero's welcome at the Judges' Club.
In open defiance of Mursi, Ahmed al-Zind, head of the club,
introduced Mahmoud by his old title.
The Mursi administration has defended the decree on the
grounds that it aims to speed up a protracted transition from
Mubarak's rule to a new system of democratic government.
Analysts say it reflects the Brotherhood's suspicion towards
sections of a judiciary unreformed from Mubarak's days.
"It aims to sideline Mursi's enemies in the judiciary and
ultimately to impose and head off any legal challenges to the
constitution," said Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with The European
Council on Foreign Relations.
"We are in a situation now where both sides are escalating
and its getting harder and harder to see how either side can
gracefully climb down."
ADVISOR TO MURSI QUITS
Following a day of violence in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said
and Suez, the smell of tear gas hung over the capital's Tahrir
Square, the epicentre of the uprising that toppled Mubarak in
2011 and the stage for more protests on Friday.
Youths clashed sporadically with police near the square,
where activists camped out for a second day on Saturday, setting
up makeshift barricades to keep out traffic.
Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt's most widely read dailies,
hailed Friday's protest as "The Nov. 23 Intifada", invoking the
Arabic word for uprising.
But the ultra-orthodox Salafi Islamist groups that have been
pushing for tighter application of Islamic law in the new
constitution have rallied behind Mursi's decree.
The Nour Party, one such group, stated its support for the
Mursi decree. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, which carried arms against
the state in the 1990s, said it would save the revolution from
what it described as remnants of the Mubarak regime.
Samir Morkos, a Christian assistant to Mursi, had told the
president he wanted to resign, said Yasser Ali, Mursi's
spokesman. Speaking to the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat
newspaper, Morkos said: "I refuse to continue in the shadow of
republican decisions that obstruct the democratic transition".
Mursi's decree has been criticised by Western states that
earlier this week were full of praise for his role in mediating
an end to the eight-day war between Israel and Palestinians.
"The decisions and declarations announced on Nov. 22 raise
concerns for many Egyptians and for the international
community," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
The European Union urged Mursi to respect the democratic